Do kids deserve something more subversive from Tim Burton’s stop motion horror homage?
It’s nearly Halloween, so cinemas are unsurprisingly filled with season-appropriate movie cash-ins. For a while adults could expect to be fed a new Saw movie each year, although Paranormal Activity has replaced this as the low budget horror franchise of choice.
Kids, on the other hand, have to sit through features about haunted aprons or magic fish or aliens or whatever. Adam Sandler’s socially conservative and entirely bland Hotel Transylvania is a perfect example of this processed mulch.
But the autumn of 2012 has also played host to more experimental, less mainstream Halloween movies. First we had ParaNorman, a solidly odd film from the people behind Coraline. Now Tim Burton, the master of satirising 1950s America, has delivered his own stop motion kiddie horror: Frankenweenie.
Presented entirely in black and white, with 3D screenings also available, the film is aesthetically interesting, with plenty of strange and often hilarious looking puppets that populate its creepy suburban world. Based on a short film Burton made in the 1980s, it takes Frankenstein as a rough blueprint but moves things in a family-friendly direction and never feels as subversive as you might expect.
Victor Frankenstein lives with his parents and faithful dog Sparky in a typical American town, although his love of filmmaking and science means that he is happier spending time in his attic than playing sports or chasing tail.
When Sparky meets his untimely demise, Victor is inspired to attempt an electrifying resurrection that actually manages to reunite him with his faithfully animated canine chum.
Sparky’s revived corpse is discovered by a hunchbacked school acquaintance, who blackmails Victor into replicating the experiment for him. Word gets out and soon several kids are trying to revive their own pets in order to win a prize at an upcoming science fair.
Frankenweenie throws some fairly adult themes at its young audience, and comes close to suggesting the process of moving on after a death is important. But this is a Disney film, so a saccharine taint lingers over many elements. For example, at one point it’s suggested that science is fuelled by love. That’s not a completely invalid argument, but it feels like the film has been pumped with unnecessary emotionality, since it already weaves an engaging and affecting narrative.
Youngsters who are new to Burton’s world will find it full of outlandish monochrome wonders; it is a far cry from the day-glo beauty of something pumped out by Pixar. But adults familiar with his other works might be less enthused, since much old ground is revisited and this time Burton’s team has less to say.